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Saturday, April 16, 2016

St. David's High School, Melaka: The SDHS '86 Mega Mini-Reunion 2016

The SDHS `86 Mega Mini-Reunion 2016

By Andrew Wan

How it began

Sometime in April 2015, I received a WhatsApp message from a former classmate of mine from St David’s High School, saying that I was to be included in a WhatsApp group comprising secondary school classmates who had graduated some thirty years earlier. Being quite new to the technology and not quite inducted yet into social media (despite having an inactive Facebook account), I had initial reservations about how well such a grouping would take off. 

An email group some years previously had died off for some reason or another. Well, I was surprised… Beginning with lovely family photos posted for the benefit of those who had not met each other for 30 years or so, to postings of food and fruit to stir the envy of friends who had settled abroad (especially two of them in the US and Australia), the WhatsApp group rapidly blossomed and succeeded where email had failed.

 Soon there were postings of a running interest group, discussions of a political nature and a Market Talk special interest group was even spun off to cater for the more financial industry savvy amongst us. Birthdays too were trumpeted and celebrated by the group with specially designed virtual cakes by our talented house artist, Anthony. A less savoury (or maybe more savoury) interest group that saw postings of a more adult nature was fortunately (or less fortunately, again depending on how you look at it) terminated due to inclusion of more spiritual elements into our group.

But the power of WhatsApp made possible an event that would otherwise not have materialized- a mega mini-reunion of SDHS 1986 in early 2016.  A prominent member of our group, Philip Chang, who is now in New Jersey, USA makes his annual sojourn to Melaka to visit his parents around mid-Jan every year. In the midst of an active WhatsApp exchange, the idea was mooted that we could meet Philip the next time he was back in Melaka. Those in the Klang valley could head southward for the mini-reunion, while others like me, who were based in Singapore, could travel northwards for the occasion.

I made plans. Buying the tickets for the Chinese New Year Trip to Melaka in February, I bought an additional pair of return tickets for the weekend trip in January, especially for the reunion. Also via WhatsApp, Philip had generously offered to put me up at his family guest-house and Roy kindly offered to pick me up when I arrived in Melaka.

Naturally, I was excited when January 19th came. I was at the station by about 8 am, although the bus would only leave at 8.30 am. Checking in at the counter, I was in for a shock. Perhaps in confusion with the CNY tickets, the reunion trip tickets that I had bought were dated Feb, instead of Jan! Fortunately, there was a seat vacancy on the 9.30 am bus, and all I had to do was wait an extra hour for my bus to Melaka. It was a great relief.

Aboard the bus, I was feeling thoroughly excited by the upcoming event. Needless to say, being in touch with my classmates via social networking was one matter, being able to physically see and interact with them following an interval of three decades would be something else. At about 1 pm, I was at Ayer Keroh toll, leading into Malacca town. Roy promptly responded when I messaged him, saying that he would be waiting for me at the bus station, Melaka Sentral. Sure enough, when I got off the bus, there was my friend of many years ago waiting on the platform. We gave each other a hug, resuming the bond that had never disappeared over the intervening years. We knew that we would reconnect with our other friends too that very evening.

In Roy’s car, we caught up with some of the happenings in our lives over the last 30 years. He had done very well for himself and his family. Just as it was for Roy, it gave me pride to know that the other classmates that we would meet later had also done good. Our conversation drifted to Roy’s interest and passion for drama during secondary school. We had taken part in an English play called `The Emperor’s Carpet’ then, and Roy had been named Best Actor for his role as an ancient Chinese lawyer in the inter-school finals.

Loi Peng Lim as an ancient Chinese lawyer in the SDHS play,
'The Emperor's Carpet'

We soon arrived at Philip’s parents’ place that was close to the town centre. Philip himself had gone out for a walk, so Roy and I sat down for a nice conversation with his parents in the meanwhile. We had just gotten round to the rising cost of bee hoon soup when Philip turned up- and I greeted another friend whom I had not seen for three decades. Together, we went out for a lunch of Yong Tow Foo at a nearby coffee shop. And once again, we used the opportunity to catch up with each other.

It was a sunny afternoon, but nothing could stop me and Philip from heading to nearby Jonker walk for a stroll through town and a much welcome bowl of chendol. Watching the time to ensure that we wouldn’t be late for dinner, we soon found ourselves at the doorstep of Philip’s guest-house, which was a terrace house not far off from his parents’ place. I was surprised to see such a well-maintained but (at the moment) uninhabited place which was to be my `hotel’ for the night. I had a quick bath and had barely emerged when Roy arrived to pick us up for the dinner.

The reunion dinner

Thanks to Heng, who had done the groundwork beforehand, the venue of the dinner had been well chosen. We would be having our mega mini-reunion at a vegetarian restaurant in Bukit Beruang. There were the four of us in the car heading towards the venue- Roy, Philip and his wife, Marysia, and myself. Again, I felt so enthralled to be doing this, to be able to meet my long-lost friends after such a long interval of time. But another part of me felt a little nervous too, as I had no idea what to expect or how I would actually feel.

It was not a straightforward matter to locate the vegetarian restaurant though, as it wasn’t the only vegetarian restaurant in Bukit Beruang. In fact, I realised that there were no less than four other vegetarian restaurants in the area! After a fruitless round or two of the vicinity, Roy decided to stop the car and call the organizer (Heng), to lock in on the correct venue. But finally, we were there. A sizeable number of our friends had already arrived, and they were crowded around the table.

`Beng, good to see you!’
`Hello, Victor!’
`Hello, Bhante!’
`Meow Teck!’
`Hi Khey Leong!’

As I started shaking hands with those crowding around us, being the new arrivals, I realised that they were also testing to see if I remembered who they were! A joke had started in the WhatsApp group that I was developing a booster that could help improve our aging memories, and I surmised that my friends were now testing to see if I had  benefited from my own discovery.
`Who am I?’  `Hua Seng!’
`Me?’ `Hmm..Ee Chien’
`How about me?.’ `Hmm…’
`Who am I?’ `Hmm…wait.. I know…errr..’

OK, it must go into the record that I failed miserably in identifying one of my former classmates (who shall remain unnamed here!), but it was taken in good humour and brightened up an already merry occasion. With the arrival of more friends, the crowd was now gathered around two tables. Naturally, there was non-stop chatter going around— you would expect nothing less from old friends meeting again after ages of being apart. The room quietened for a while to hear a short speech from Heng, who thanked all who had come from near and far to attend the occasion. Heng ended by requesting a blessing from Bhante before we tucked into our dinner, which he duly obliged.

The SDHS, Melaka '86 mega mini-reunion
group photo

The reunion dinner must have lasted a good two hours, but I hardly felt the time ticking away. There was continuous chatter, photo-taking and more shaking of hands as friends continued to arrive during the dinner. Honestly, there was not enough time to spend with each and every person who was attending, but then, that would be good reason to have more of such reunions in future. Just as it had been for Roy, I was proud to learn that all these former classmates of mine had done well in their lives. We had come from different backgrounds, but shared similar values of respect, family and friendship, and this was what connected us. Some friends had gone into the finance industry, others into banking, business and stocks. A couple were into design and food, while others, like me, were doing research. But regardless of our livelihood, all of us remained at heart the SDHS boy of 1986. Soon, it was time to leave. It was truly a case of not being keen to say goodbye, as a large number of us spilled out onto the road outside the restaurant (as it was already closing) and continued our conversations. And the gathering darkness didn’t stop us from snapping a couple more `informal’ group photos.

At the restaurant after dinner...one for the road

The next morning saw Roy, Philip, Kuan Wah and myself tucking into a breakfast of Nonya popiah and paiti at Kampung Lapan near where Ah Wah stayed. There was a bit more opportunity for reminiscence and recap of the previous evening’s occasion, before Roy dropped me off at Melaka Sentral, where I would board the bus for my trip back to Singapore. In the following days, the WhatsApp group was in active mode, exchanging photos and comments on the reunion, particularly for the benefit of those who couldn’t attend. Plans were already underway for another reunion in 2017.

There are highlights in our lives, for example, when we get married or have kids, or achieve a goal that we had set out to achieve after a long time. For me, one highlight was the search for my great grandfather’s village in Fujian a few years ago. 

On the road to Yong Chun in search of my root

The SDHS 1986 mega mini-reunion must surely qualify as another highlight of my life.

1 comment:

  1. Nice report. I'm still waiting for the class of 75 to organise the big reunion! I'd fly back for that. That's the class the current SDHS principal was in.